By Jason Guarente
Lancaster New Era
Published: Apr 19, 2006 2:12 PM EST
LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - LAKELAND, Fla. — Once the shock wore off and he returned home, Reggie Taylor realized he had two choices.
He could sulk.
Or he could put the pieces of his baseball career back together.
The 6-1, 180-pound outfielder went with option No. 2. That’s why he contacted the Lancaster Barnstormers.
“I thought the only way I was going to get back into organized ball was to put that uniform on,” Taylor said. “Nobody wants to call somebody sitting on the couch.”
The frustrating part for Taylor is he still can’t figure out how he ended up on the outside of the affiliated wall in the first place.
The 11-year veteran, who played parts of four seasons in the big leagues, was released by the Detroit Tigers at the end of spring training despite hitting .389 in camp.
Taylor thought he at least earned a job with one of the Tigers’ minor league affiliates, but the organization’s decision makers thought otherwise.
“When I got called in, I was like, ‘Should I have hit .600 or something this spring?’ Taylor said. “That’s part of baseball, man. I kept my head up. I thought about what I wanted to do and I got back on the horn.”
Taylor called the Barnstormers because it seemed a perfect fit. He was familiar with the area from his days with the Reading Phillies and he wanted to join a team with top-notch facilities and strong fan support.
The Barnstormers, always in search of left-handed power hitters for their lineup, wasted no time getting Taylor’s signature on a contract.
Although you sometimes have to worry about a player’s attitude when he goes from the big leagues to independent ball, that doesn’t appear to be a problem with Taylor.
Manager Tom Herr liked his new star’s demeanor during the team’s first spring training practice Tuesday.
“He seems like he’s in an excellent frame of mind to play here,” Herr said. “That’s half the battle for a guy like him. It has to be such a letdown, an emotional, traumatic time in his career.”
Taylor, 29, was once a can’t-miss prospect. The Newberry, S.C. native was drafted 14th overall by the Phillies in 1995 and was immediately placed on the fast track. He was in Double-A by age 21, Triple-A by 23 and made his big-league debut at 24.
He never put up the eye-opening numbers expected from someone with his lofty draft status, but Taylor was always a solid pro. He’s a lifetime .260 hitter who has reached double digits in homers four times and has stolen over 20 bases six times.
Taylor spent two full seasons in the majors with the Cincinnati Reds in 2002 and 2003, but he has become a journeyman of late bouncing through five organizations in the past two years.
Now he finds himself outside of the affiliated loop for the first time.
“It’s kind of like I’ve been on that up and down roller coaster,” Taylor said. “This is a great opportunity to revive my career. I know this is going to help me appreciate the game and have fun and not put pressure on myself.”
As he walked around the Lakeland training facility Tuesday, the same one he navigated as a member of the Tigers last month, Taylor didn’t act like a man who just suffered a major occupational setback.
He flashed a big, easy smile and talked openly about the recent direction his career has taken.
“I’m disappointed, but in a way I’m happy I have a team like this,” Taylor said. “People turn their careers around in this league. It’s nothing bad at all. I just have to suck up my pride and play. I understand from this day forward nothing is going to be given to me.”
Those are magical words to Herr, who has the best possible situation with Taylor. He’s a talented ballplayer with something to prove.
“My advice to him was to come in with the attitude that he wants to show he’s the best player in this league,” Herr said. “He won’t be here long if that’s the case.”
When he was drafted by the Phillies 11 years ago, baseball was always a burdensome pursuit for Taylor. He was expected to progress quickly and make a big splash.
Times have changed. He’s no longer the can’t-miss kid. He’s just another guy in the Atlantic League hoping for another chance.
The perks and pleasures of the big leagues, once a constant in his life, are quickly becoming a distant memory.
Taylor believes he’ll experience them again.
“I see things a little differently now,” he said. “I guess that’s because I’m older and a lot more mature. I still have a lot of baseball left. Things don’t stop for me here.”